Australia’s restaurant sector has welcomed the reopened border, as staff shortages loom over the Christmas period

Australia’s restaurant sector has welcomed the reopened border, as staff shortages loom over the Christmas period
  • The food service sector has welcomed the imminent reopening of Australia’s international border to skilled workers.
  • The influx of chefs and other skilled staff will boost the local restaurant inddustry, said Wes Lambert, chief executive of the Restaurant and Catering Association.
  • But the sector was already “desperate” for staff before the pandemic, suggesting some eateries may have trouble finding staff ahead of Christm
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The imminent reopening of Australia’s international border to working visa holders has been welcomed by the hard-hit food and hospitality sector, but industry leaders warn many local restaurants won’t have full kitchens before the Christmas rush.

On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that working visa holders, along with a slew of other travellers and students, will be permitted entry into Australia from 1 December.

The decision to end Australia’s closed border policy for working migrants after nearly two years of pandemic-era protections was a “welcome and much needed announcement,” said Wes Lambert, chief executive of the Restaurant & Catering Association (R&CA).

An influx of skilled chefs and service staff will “turbocharge the local economy,” he added.

However the industry “still has a long way to go until we reach pre-pandemic levels of staff,” Lambert said, reflecting the deep scars COVID-19 left on the nation’s hospitality sector.

Australian labour force data shows 817,000 people were employed in accommodation and food services in August this year, when COVID-19 lockdowns and business closures across New South Wales, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory forced many restaurants and cafes to close their doors.

That was 65,000 fewer than in May 2021, and a full 115,000 below the pre-pandemic levels of February 2020.

Australia’s hospitality sector was “desperate” for staff even before the pandemic, Lambert added, meaning hospitality job listings are unlikely to plummet over the coming months.

New research commissioned by Menulog and the National Indigenous Culinary Institute found nine out of every ten food industry owners and managers believe there is an over-reliance on international chefs to operate Australian kitchens.

Six out of ten also stated there’s a lack of local talent to fill in the gaps.

The shortage was exacerbated by COVID-19, the research suggests, as only three out of ten surveyed operators were able to maintain their regular staffing levels over the past 18 months.

“While international chef talent will always play an important role in our kitchens, we need to reset the balance,” Lambert said of those findings.

As the industry eyes a long-term shift to domestic culinary training, the federal government hopes the rule changes will provide an initial boost to local businesses which suffered through lockdowns.

On Monday, Morrison said he expected 200,000 workers and students to enter the country through December and January.

“We’re looking forward to that because that will secure that economic recovery,” Morrison said.